Eucalyptus trees are a diverse genus of flowering trees and shrubs in the myrtle family, known as Myrtaceae. Eucalyptus trees, which can come from either Eucalyptus, Corymbia or Angophora genera, are sometimes called gum trees. This often suggests to people that the very gum they chew might come from these trees. Interestingly, some koala bears only eat a few varieties of these gum leaves, and many of its dried leaves and oil are popular uses of medicine.
Chewing Gum and Gum Trees
According to the Ford Gum Company, modern gums are made with chicle, natural gums, or man-made latex. Other man-made materials are added for a better chewing experience. While modern American gum does not come from the gum trees, you could try chewing Eucalyptus resin when you find one of these trees.
There is also Kino, which is a name of plant gum produced by plants and trees including Eucalyptus. It produces a red color that oozes out large amounts, where it gets its name "red gum" and "blood wood." This type of gum is used in medicine, tanning, and dyes, but not as chewing gum. However, it was used as a traditional remedy for issues with diarrhea and sore throats.
The History of Gum Tree Chewing
There have been many substances that have been chewed over the centuries. The Aboriginal people in Australia chewed the gummy sap of gum trees, for instance. One of the earliest kinds came from the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus) in Europe, and Native Americans chewed spruce tree resins. Additionally, birch tree tar and pine tree resins, among others, were also chewed throughout history.
In South America, they chewed chicle, which was sapodilla (Manilkara zapota) tree sap. This chicle was later used to create early gums manufactured in the United States, such as Chiclets. Paraffin wax was also sometimes used in making chewing gum.
Gum and Advertising
According to Smithsonian.com, the average American chewed 105 sticks of gum a year by the 1920's. This all started when American inventor Thomas Adams Sr. used supplies of chicle as an industrial substance, like rubber, before boiling and hand-rolling it into pieces of gum to chew. It quickly sold at local drugstores, so he began manufacturing it, leading to a large production of sales in the late 1880s. William Wrigley also started a marketing campaign around the same time, which sold free gum with soap orders. When he realized people wanted the gum more than the soap, he focused on gum advertising, allowing him to be one of the richest people in the nation by 1932, when unfortunately, he passed away.
Natural chewing gum from trees does not widely occur today, partially because it's unsustainable to harvest. This also leads to environmental issues, as sapodilla trees die off, contributing to forest depletion. Rather than killing off our trees, chewing gum manufacturers have been using synthetic bases since the 1980s. Petroleum, wax, and other materials are common, which also keep costs down.